Uff, this is getting tiresome. The match feels like it was a million years ago. It’s hard to care much anymore. The writing of all this nonsense has involved endless commentaries on the telly and protracted conversations on exactly the same topic. It’s necrophilia without the pulse-quickening thrill of transgression or the refreshing spike of the wind on your bare nipples; it’s sadomasochism without the alluring smell of leather. Still, this post-mortem would be nothing without a few words devoted to the defence.
Although no-one was in any way convinced by Argentina’s defence coming into the game, most informed people reckoned they might just be able to get away with it. Jonathan Wilson again:
“Manager Diego Maradona will surely maintain that solid, deep back four. [….] Germany’s forwards are very good at exploiting space, but Argentina won’t give them space. Its back four focuses almost exclusively on defending; Maradona’s side is not reliant, as England and Australia are, on attacking full-backs.”
For whatever reason, no team had really gotten behind them so far. Nigeria had once or twice but were too bad to punish them; Korea came straight at them and created little or nothing; Greece didn’t even play; Mexico scored the first time they tried to turn Demichelis, but for some reason persisted with speculative long shots.
Germany didn’t. Their patience in attack was remarkable. The didn’t even need long diagonal balls to pull the players out of position. They just passed the ball past the defenders calmly, and along the ground, too. All the goals were scored from within about ten yards of the goal. It seemed unreal the ease with which they sailed by the non-existent challenges. Wilson: “it doesn’t matter how many players you have at the back if none of them put in a challenge.”
The brain in the tank’s best line, though was: “Argentina’s insipidness was bewildering.” Bewildering is good, as the obtuse counsellor would say. And as Carlitos Tevez said after the game, Germany didn’t surprise Argentina at all: “We knew what they were going to do, we had worked on it in training but we were unable to stop them. That was our greatest sin.”
If there were to be one central thesis of this whole mammoth piece, it’ wouldn’t be Jogi Löw’s theory that Argentina were simply ‘a broken team’: Argentina were set up to stop Germany but lost every single battle on the pitch; and that Maradona failed to take action in time, despite the fact that several players were playing as if they’d just found themselves transported Quantum Leap-style onto the pitch in a World Cup quarter-final.
The greatest example of a player having a nervous breakdown on the pitch was poor Nico Otamendi. He’s a good player, he has played well before and will again. Perhaps he wasn’t playing in his best position but he had arguably been man of the match against Mexico. The kind of meltdown he had in the second half on Saturday usually comes served with tuna. Maradona was doing him no favour by leaving him on the pitch and he should have come off at half-time at the latest.
After 30 seconds he received the ball in a comfortable position, tried to pass it to a teammate and promptly fell on his arse. After two minutes he gave away a silly foul out by the touchline. From the ensuing free kick he lost his man and Argentina were a goal behind. In the next ten minutes, he gave the ball away several times and by the tenth minute he had been booked. Only Germany deciding to relinquish their grip on Argentina’s neck meant that he was able to hide until half time.
Just as in the Nigeria match, however, Maradona was too slow with his substitutions. More or less the first time the ball came his way more than twenty minutes into the second half, Otamendi and Demichelis contrived to turn a relatively unthreatening situation into the killer goal for Germany. [Muller lying prone on the grass was still more than a match for both of them]. Maradona bottled it spectacularly, taking off Otamendi and replacing him with… nobody.
Pegamequemegusta spilled maté all over the table at this point and yelled furiously at scandalised family and friends. He’s just turned a 2-0 or, at best, a 2-1 into a three or four goal rout! Yet again an Argentina manager bottles it in the second half of a WC quarter-final. Bewildering. In that respect, never having been in that position before, Maradona was found out. He finished the match with four or five strikers on the pitch but now without any pretence of a system whatsoever, like Louis Van Gaal with Holland in the Greatest Match of All time in 2001.
It seemed obvious that if Argentina went behind first in the game it was going to be a lot more difficult, nigh on impossible, such is Germany’s strength on the counter-attack. Surprisingly though, and good news for Spain on Wednesday, that’s not how the match was won. Germany didn’t just sit back and wait: they wither lost their nerve or were genuinely unable to do anything for a good fourty minutes of the match. Mascherano kept Özil quiet as a laryngitis-stricken mouse. Olé described his efforts, aptly in our opinion, as ‘almost moving at times’.
Most of the analysis of this match focused on the first twenty minutes and the last twenty. As we detailed in the previous instalment, it was the initial Otamendi collapse coupled with Argentina’s misfiring front players who let them down, failing to even come close despite extended bouts of possession.
Unlike the internet geeks pegamequemegusta spent the whole first part of this glorified exercise in self-harm taking the piss out of, Johnny Giles on RTÉ offered a simpler, more sensible, more traditional breakdown of events. Jonathan Wilson’s reading of events was correct, too, of course, but he approaches the game from a completely different point of view. Gilesy’s is more conventional, more classic, and more accurate than the diagrams and stills of the bloggers:
Would a better team have punished them in that 15-20 spell [in the second half]?
Well they could have done, Darren, that’s the problem, and they had a little bit of bad luck cause they had some reasonable chances at that stage that could have changed the whole course of the game. In any game… every game is different and there are stages in it where you’re on top and you have to score your goals. Sometimes the other team get on top and you have to defend… It ebbs and flows. Through experience you learn that ‘if that happens then this is what we’re going to do’, and I think that the German team have to learn that. They have to learn to say [to themselves]: ‘Look, this team is not doing its stuff, we’re a goal up, we have to take advantage of it’. And the best way to take that advantage and kill a game off is to score goals.
We feared coming into the competition that even if things were to work out for Maradona’s Argentina, even if the butterfly didn’t emerge from the chrysalis horribly deformed, the lack of game time and the poor squad selection could come back to haunt him. In the end it was somewhat more complicated than that rather facile argument. Those aspects of the preparations certainly didn’t help but the inexplicable implosion of Brazil does constitute a rebuttal to a certain extent.
Unfortunately, Gilesy let himself down immediately after this speech by admitting that he had no idea what things were like in the Argentine camp or what their preparations were. This lack of background knowledge is the downside of the wizened footballer pundit (yet it is not too far removed from the know-it-all geeks who so spectacularly fall between two sweaty thighs of ignorance in their attempts to offer pseudo-scientific previews and reviews of every single match). Nevertheless, he didn’t imagine Maradona working on corners, free kicks or on instilling any kind of discipline on the team. Pegamequemegusta has only spent the last three weeks demolishing that myth: four of their ten goals came from set-pieces and only excellent goalkeeping denied them on a few more. A bewildering indicator of how lost they were in the Germany match was that all these training ground moves just disappeared.
Or the match can be summed up in an even more concise way: Argentina were shit. And unless they come up with at least three midfielders and four defenders over the next four years, they won’t win in Brazil either. So far Maradona could well be staying for the Copa América next year in his homeland: one last shot at some kind of glory and the opportunity to show that just as he learned from the qualifiers he is capable of drawing lessons from this defeat, too. If he does, as Lou Reed mumbles sweetly into the ear of a transvestite, Diego, i’d give it all up for you: